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County budget looks dismal

By: Gus Thomson, Gold Country News Service
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Placer County supervisors received more dismal budget news Tuesday. Not only did the board approve an interim spending plan that estimates an 11.1 percent drop in spending in the coming budget year that starts July 1 but they heard from CEO budget analysts that there will be no quick bounce-back when a recovery occurs. “By all accounts, the recession is deeper and longer than previously thought,” Assistant CEO Holly Heinzen said. Heinzen said that even if the housing downturn were to reverse itself, it would still be the following year or even 18 months out – when higher values would be reflected on property tax rolls – before the county would see the benefits in its bottom line. The 2009-10 budget is currently projected to be $769 million – down from this year’s $865 million. But questions about actual revenue totals, impact on services and the state budget still remain unanswered. Discussion on the budget will continue through the summer before a final budget proposal is made in front of an Oct. 2 deadline. “It’s important to stress that this is an interim budget,” Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery said. “There are still a number of unknowns out there.” The drop in expenditures reflects both a decrease in county capital spending because of the completion of the Bill Santucci Law Center and other large projects and a downward trend in tax revenues. The most notable decrease has been in county property-tax collections. They’re expected to drop 2.91 percent next year – falling from this year’s $97.48 million to $94.65 million. Property tax accounts for about a fifth of the county’s discretionary income – money that isn’t earmarked for a specific purpose and that is controlled by the county. Sales tax is expected to decrease 13.57 percent – from $13.4 million to $11.6 million. The public- safety sales tax, earmarked for the sheriff’s department, is anticipated to drop nearly $4 million to $30.5 million. To balance the budget, the county has decreased its workforce from 2,605 employees in 2007 to 2,441. Another 62 positions will not be filled next year, according to interim budget projections. Projections into the 2010-11 budget year are for revenues to flatten out. But the county will be facing $23 million more in expenditures – most notably $8 million more in public-safety salaries tied to the 23-year-old Measure F. Approved by Placer County voters, it bases county Sheriff’s Department pay on the average for neighboring law-enforcement salaries. General salaries and benefits for other county employees are also poised for an increase, rising from $162 million to $171 million under current labor agreements. Supervisors approved an interim-spending plan for the coming year that will be adjusted to reflect a state budget that could take away another $11 million. The county’s budget for the coming year needs to be adopted by Oct. 2. Supervisor Rocky Rockholm offered some positive news, noting that the latest national consumer-confidence numbers came in Tuesday much higher that projected. “Consumer confidence was up to 54 percent – they were expecting 42 percent,” Rockholm said. “That’s a good sign.”